Interview with Jo McKinley: Vegan Dancer & Instructor
Written by Leigh-Chantelle
Created Thursday, 08 November 2012
Jo McKinley is the Founder, Director & Instructor at Gungahlin Dance Academy. She trained from the age of 6 in many styles of dance including classical ballet, jazz, tap, contemporary, Scottish, cabaret and hip hop. She has also studied drama and public speaking. Jo won many awards and scholarships as a dancer before attending university and subsequently starting Gungahlin Dance Academy. Jo has performed for more than 20 years on stage, in musical theatre, straight theatre, as an National Basketball League dancer and at overseas exhibitions. She currently performs in and choreographs for musical theatre shows.
Jo has also been a long-time animal rights activist and vegan. Volunteering for many Animal Liberation organisations, PETA, Vegan Outreach, Sea Shepherd and Save Japan Dolphins, she has led many campaigns to help stop animal abuse and exploitation the world over. She currently spends her spare time focusing on vegan education as she has come to believe that veganism is the only moral and ethical baseline. Jo hopes to open her own vegan or raw vegan café/restaurant with her partner Chris Victor in the future.
How and why did you decide to become a vegan?
I had been lacto-ovo vegetarian for 4 years prior. I saw some footage on dairy cows and looked further into free-range eggs and discovered how cruel the egg and dairy industries are. I decided to become vegan when I could no longer deny the fact that the animal cruelty involved in these industries is unacceptable, no matter how much I liked the taste of the products. I remember my last vegetarian meal was a cheese pizza when I was 23. I started out as a vegan because of the animals. Along the way I learned about how a vegan diet has the least impact on the planet compared to an animal flesh based diet, which is environmentally unsustainable, so that further cemented my ethical standpoint on veganism. Lately, I have been fascinated with the health benefits of raw veganism. I discovered the raw vegan movement about 2 years ago and it made perfect sense to me. I have been eating high raw the last 6 months. I will remain a high raw vegan because I have learnt that eating this way gives us health, vitality, prevents disease, cancer and many other poor health conditions.
How long have you been vegan?
Over 10 years
What has benefited you the most from being a vegan?
I have a clear conscience and wonderful health.
What does veganism mean to you?
Veganism to me means living in harmony with nature. It means rejecting speciesism, a form of discrimination of privilege based on species. It means compassion, health and being part of the solution rather than part of the problem.
What sort of training do you do?
I teach dance 6 days a week and I sing and dance in musical theatre. My physical activity varies from dancing a few hours a week to performing vigorously for 12 + hours a week.
How often do you (need to) train?
If I am not dancing, I might go for a run for half an hour. I’ll have a day or two off from exercise every week. It’s not all about exercise for me. Sometimes you just want to sit on the couch and eat vegan chocolate.
Do you offer your fitness or training services to others?
Yes. I own the Gungahlin Dance Academy
in Australia and teach ballet as well as many other styles of dance to students. This is my full time job, which I enjoy.
What sports do you play?
I don’t play sport much other than the occasional hit of tennis.
Strengths, Weaknesses & Outside Influences
What do you think is the biggest misconception about vegans and how do you address this?
That we are limited with what we eat and that we must be lacking in some kind of nutrients. I lead by example. I am of excellent health yet I enjoy food too. I take friends and family out to vegan restaurants and cook them vegan treats to show how easy it is to be cruelty free and enjoy scrumptious food.
What are you strengths as a vegan athlete?
Stamina; and when performing I generally don’t pick up the colds and flus or stomach bugs that can often go through an entire cast.
What is your biggest challenge?
Not enough time in the day to run my business, perform and be an animal activist. It’s give and take.
Are the non-vegans in your industry supportive or not?
I am the boss, so people either like me or leave! Yes, they have to be supportive/understanding. Though they are very accommodating of me being vegan, it has not caused them to further investigate why I am vegan, therefore they have not transitioned to veganism themselves (yet), though many people around me tell me they eat more fruit and vegetables and less meat than they otherwise would have.
Are your family and friends supportive of your vegan lifestyle?
My vegan friends are. My family is very accepting and makes getting together easy. Meals out are always vegan. We usually eat vegan when together. My non-vegan friends even eat at vegan restaurants whenever we go out. So I’d have to say on the whole, yes. They are supportive and aware, yet not aware enough yet to investigate the ethics behind veganism and try it for themselves.
What is the most common question/comment that people ask/say when they find out that you are a vegan and how do you respond?
Where do you get your protein? When asked about protein I talk about how much protein we really need to be healthy (no one ever died of protein deficiency!) and explain that fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds all have adequate amounts of protein. I love the quote, “People eat meat and think they will become as strong as an ox, forgetting that the ox eats grass.”
Who or what motivates you?
Veganism is so natural to me I don’t need much motivation. I guess the reward is a clear conscience, and knowing I am causing the least harm possible to animals and the planet.
Food & Supplements
What do you eat for: Breakfast:
Fruit or raw buckwheat cereal and almond milk. On a bad day, leftover vegan pizza! Lunch:
Steamed veggies, raw sushi, rice paper rolls, leftovers or salad. Dinner:
Usually salad. I also like tofu and vegetable stirfries. I always overdose on broccoli – it is my favourite food. I’m a big fan of raw chopped crudités with lots of dipping options too! My favourite restaurant in the world is Au Lac
, a vegan Vietnamese restaurant in Canberra. I love red wine too. Snacks (healthy & not-so healthy):
I’m a popcorn junkie. Carrot sticks, dark chocolate, raw dessert, rice crackers.
What is your favourite source of: Protein:
Fruits and vegetables have all the protein, calcium and iron we need. Calcium:
see above Iron:
see above What foods give you the most energy?
Raw vegan foods.
Do you take any supplements?
What is your top tip for:
Gaining muscle: Lift heavy weights.
Losing weight: Exercise and eat low fat, raw vegan meals. Maybe do a kick-start juice fast/feast.
Maintaining weight: Eat well most of the time, and enjoy foods you love too. It is all about balance.
Improving metabolism: Exercise - get up and move! It doesn’t matter what!
Toning up: Toning up really is just stripping body fat. Expend more energy than you take in and that will happen.
How do you promote veganism in your daily life?
This year I ran a program called A Vegucation
. It involves being a vegan mentor and coach for people who want to try out the lifestyle for 6 weeks. They have to read a set of books (including The China Study
) and watch 2 (or more) documentaries (including Earthlings
) and eat only vegan food for 6 weeks. This program was very successful in 2012.
I also talk to people about veganism whenever I have to the opportunity, and that involves leafleting, talking to school groups, youth groups and sometimes just anyone who will listen!
How would you suggest people get involved with what you do?
To get involved with dance, just look up your local dance school online. It is a fun way to keep fit, have fun and you don’t usually realise that you’re working out! To get involved with veganism, saving the planet and getting super healthy, shoot me an email
at as I’d be more than happy to take you on a Vegucation!
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